Choosing a School: Considering Your Child's Needs

Deciding what your child needs and what matters most are key steps in choosing a school with the best fit for your child.

By Our Content Partner

Sorting Out Your Child’s Unique Needs

Children vary in so many ways! Your child is like no other, yet possesses so many qualities in common with others. Like a star that twinkles a little differently with each view, your child may seem to be many different people combined into one. Through the still unknown recipe of genes and upbringing, your child is a unique concoction of capabilities, wants, needs and motives.

Indeed, children’s bodies, minds, emotions and spirits combine to make unique individuals. This mix affects the kind of environment in which each child learns best. As a parent, you probably have some sense of this. But many of us feel at a loss to understand and respond to our own children’s capabilities, needs and personalities, even in our daily parenting, much less for school.

Finding a Great Fit

The burning question for you now is this: which qualities, in their unique combination within your child, really matter for choosing a school? Which of your child’s features will help her learn and feel better in some schools—with certain teachers, peers, materials, and expected ways of learning—and worse in others? Which of your child’s strengths and weaknesses can be addressed at school, and which can be developed at home? When your child’s and family’s needs fit well with what your child’s school offers, we call it a “Great Fit.”

Focus on the Four Fit Factors

Fortunately, we can focus on a limited number of characteristics that affect how well children fare in different kinds of school environments. We developed this targeted list by scanning the research about child development and by talking with parents of many different kinds of children about their children’s needs. From all of that information, we organized the many characteristics of children into four easy-to-grasp categories: the four Fit Factors. These Fit Factors are simply a way of sorting out your child’s (and later, your family’s) many features in a way useful for identifying your school needs. The four Fit Factors for children include:

  • What Your Child Learns: these are aspects of your child that affect what subjects and at what level of difficulty your child should be taught at school. These include your child’s Basic Learning Capability, other capabilities, and interests.
  • How Your Child Learns: these are aspects of your child that affect how a school should teach and interact with your child both in and outside of the classroom. These include your child’s learning styles, motivation, physical and mental health challenges, behavior challenges, learning disabilities and disorders, and self-understanding.
  • Social Issues: this includes the need for social contact with particular friends from the child’s perspective.
  • Practical Matters: this includes essential extracurricular activities that may be compelling choice factors for some children.

Prioritizing Your Child’s Needs

The four Fit Factors help you by taking the jumble of characteristics that define your child and funneling them down into a manageable set. Not every Fit Factor characteristic is important for matching every child to the right school. You’ll need to decide which ones are really important for your child. Most children will have only a small number of characteristics that are top priorities for selecting a school. Identify these, and you can focus on finding a truly Great Fit school for your child’s top needs. Add to this key questions about your family's top needs and school academic quality, and you will be ready to pick a great school that fits.

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